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medication list

The Life-Changing Magic: Understand your Medication List

Part II: Understanding your medication list

To get the most out of your medication list, it is important to understand it completely. Always speak to your doctors or pharmacists if you have any doubts or queries when filling out the list.

This is the part II of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Medication. Click here for Part I: It begins with creating a medication list.

Listing out all the names of the medications you use

In Singapore, it is common for government hospitals to provide generic versions of medications once the original brand comes off patent to bring the costs down for patients. This may mean changes in the appearance of your medication when different companies produce the same medication. Hence it is always important to remember the name of your medications instead of just the appearance of the medications. If you need help with identifying the name of your medications, always check with your doctors or pharmacists.

Also, it is important to list out all the names of the medications you use especially non-prescription items such as over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbal, natural and traditional medicines. You may not take them on a regular basis; however they are still vital information to your doctors and pharmacists. As the number of medications you take increases, the potential for possible medication interactions increases. For example, there are medications that are affected by iron and calcium supplements and may require you to be taking it a few hours apart. Also, there are certain over-the-counter medications or even natural and herbal products that are readily available that may not be suitable for patients with certain health conditions. With a complete medication list, your doctors or pharmacists will be able to help you better in identifying possible medication-related problems and provide you with the best advice.

Listing out what each medication is for

In the same local study done in 2012 involving 240 polyclinic patients, it found that almost 85% of the patients did not know the purpose of at least one of their medications. All the patients in this study had 5 or more regular medications being prescribed. As the number of medications you use increases, it is more difficult to keep track of them especially if the medications were prescribed by different doctors. Knowing what your medication is for empowers you in understanding your medical conditions as well. It also enables your doctors or pharmacists to identify possible medications that may be unnecessary or may not be essential for your current health condition. Always clarify with your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure about what your medication does for you.

medication pill list

Listing out the dosage form of each medication

Medications can be administered in many different ways. It is important that you list out the form your medication comes in as well. This can help highlight to you or your doctors or pharmacists if there are potential difficulties in using the particular dosage form. For example, you may have swallowing difficulties and you need to crush your medications into powder form before taking it. This may pose a problem as not all medications can be crushed as it may affect the effectiveness of certain medications. Always highlight potential difficulties you may have to your doctors or pharmacists as they can provide advice on alternative dosage forms that may be available, like the same medication but in liquid or syrup form.

Listing out how much of each medicine to use

How much of each medicine to use is often referred to as the strength, dose and dosage. The strength of your medication is often printed in grams or milligrams. It is commonly printed beside the medication name or on the packaging of the medication. It usually refers to the strength of one tablet or one capsule or one puff (for inhalers); depending on what dosage form your medication comes in. The dose of your medication is how much you are taking. For example, you may be prescribed to only take half of a tablet. The dosage refers to the dose with a time frequency. For example, you may be prescribed to take half a tablet twice a day (in the morning and in the evening).

Let me illustrate this clearer with an example. Metformin is the name of a common medication used to treat diabetes. A common strength of one tablet of the medicine is 500 mg. A common dosage of Metformin for patients with newly diagnosed diabetes can be one 500 mg tablet (the dose) twice a day (the time frequency).

It may be quite tricky to figure this out, always consult your doctor or pharmacist to clarify any doubts you may have. It is also important to note in your medication list if you are not taking your medication as prescribed as it helps your doctors or pharmacists to identify certain concerns you may have and how they can adjust your medications to suit your lifestyle or needs better. For example, you may have difficulties adhering to your medications as they require you to remember taking them multiple times a day, always consult your doctor about your concerns as they may be able to provide you with an alternative treatment or a change in dosage.

Listing out when and how to use each medicine

The reason why certain medications have to be used at certain times of the day or before or after food is usually to maximize their effectiveness.  For example, there are some medications with special instructions for it to be taken first thing in the morning before food. This is because the absorption of some medications is greatly interfered by food, rendering them less effective as lesser of the medication is being absorbed by the body. On the other hand, there are some medications with special instructions for it to be taken with or after food as they may have an unpleasant taste which can be masked by taking the medication with food. Always check with your doctors or pharmacists if you have difficulties adhering to special instructions that are prescribed with your medications as they can provide you with the best advice.

Listing out any known medication allergies

It is important that information about your allergies is listed so that your doctors do not prescribe the same or similar medication again. It is important to understand the difference between an allergy and intolerance to a medication.

A medication allergy is something that can often cause significant harm, most serious being anaphylaxis (swelling of the airways) which can potentially be life-threatening and requires urgent medical treatment. Medication intolerance often describes a less serious side effect to a medication. For example, developing a stomach upset after taking a certain painkiller. If you are unsure, record the allergy or intolerance on your medication list and discuss this with your doctor.

About the Author:
This article is written by Vanessa Ong. Vanessa is a registered pharmacist with the Singapore Pharmacy Council. She spent several years in the inpatient setting in a local hospital. She enjoyed her time spent in the wards working with a dedicated healthcare team passionate about better patient outcomes. She strongly believes that evidence-based health information can be made simple so that the public can find joy in taking ownership of their health and live life to the fullest.

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